While browsing around, looking for a particular illustration of a medieval great hall, I happened upon the above picture, which is an imagining of the hall at Eltham Palace toward the end of the 15th century. I think, but can’t be sure, that the king seated splendidly at the far end is Edward IV. But it could be Richard III, or even (heaven forfend) Henry VII. The likelihood seems to be Edward.
This link will take you to an English Heritage site all about Eltham. It contains some wonderful illustrations, showing Eltham from the outside, and this view of the great hall. The whole site is well worth saving somewhere in your myriad files.
Of course, being a Ricardian, I am certain there is something essential missing from the gathering. So here it is again (mirrored for artistic reasons) with Richard himself to make it complete!
Several years ago I was out at Bosworth to attend an author signing with one of my favourite Ricardian authors, Sharon Penman, who wrote the mighty epic The Sunne in Splendour. We were staying in the Royal Arms at Sutton Cheney, which has a public room filled with armour, memorabilia, paintings of the battle and of Richard and Tudor (I put the latter at my back!)
Our room was in an annexe that looked out over the fields. The light was grey, heavy; the soil of the field, newly ploughed, glistening after rain, looked red. Redemore. The Red Plain. In the distance the hedges wore little crowns of mist, and a single dark-winged crow sat on the fence, its shrill cry breaking a strange stillness. A haunting place.
We went to bed. In the night we heard rain drumming on the roof. We turned over,slept. In the early hours of the morning, I was woken by a ruckus overhead. There was crashes and bangs as if someone, or more like multiple someones, were streaming, charging over the roof of the building. I began to fancy them as hoofbeats and laughed at myself and my infamous imagination. It must surely be the hotel staff doing something in a room above us…but why the heck were they doing it pre-dawn when they had guests?
The sounds clattered away into nothingess. I went back to sleep. Later, when we got up and went to pack our things in the car, I looked back towards the building.
There was no upstairs room above ours.
This poem came out of that night….
THE WHITE ROSE
I walked upon Bosworth field,
the soil red beneath my feet
as rain pelted from a stormy sky
in a grey and stony sheet
Sutton Cheney’s stolid tower
was an upturned bucket in the mist
and the whole rolling landscape
a haunted vista twilight kissed.
Why do I feel such strangling sorrow
in that lonely, empty space
where amongst the bristling hedges
the small birds dart and race
soaring like souls into a sky
unchanged by the passing years,
still on this sullen summer’s day
pouring out its bitter tears.
I found a crooked, winding path
that crossed a farmer’s land…
so plain and oh so ordinary
you might dismiss it out of hand
But I knew that here was the place
where a banner once soared on high,
and a White Boar fighting rose and fell,
a betrayed man consigned to die
So history was written
and legends false and foul were born,
birthed out of blood and treachery
on a red-tinged summer’s morn
The victor writes the pages,
speechless dead cannot defend
but I swore I would speak for him
both now and till the end.
And when I returned later
to my little rented room
at midnight I heard thunder
like a banging drum of doom
or was it something greater
that tore across the brooding sky,
passing in flashes over Bosworth…
what does it really mean to die?
Westward like winter’s geese
I saw pale horsemen flying
while the echoes of ghostly horns,
drifted outward, fading, dying….
And on the rain-bright road
its petals teared with icy rain
lay a perfect snow-white rose…
King Richard rides again.
Art by Frances Quinn
Richard’s coins are, inevitably, rare. He didn’t reign long enough for there to be all that many. However, one of his “long cross pennies” is up for auction, and can be viewed from noon, Monday, 4th September 2017, at the Emmanuel Centre, 9-23 Marsham Street, Westminster, London SW1P 3DW.
Cheque books and plastic at the ready, ladies and gentlemen? At the very least, scuttle along there and take a peek.
Unlocking the secrets of the Black Prince’s effigy
A team of scientists and art historians has been attempting to unravel some of the mysteries surrounding the Black Prince’s tomb. In this short video you can find out what they were up to and what they are hoping to discover.
This investigation is one of a number of research papers and talks that are being prepared for The Black Prince: Man, Mortality & Myth conference on 16 and 17 November 2017. You can find out more about the conference here: https://www.canterbury-cathedral.org/whats-on/event/blackprinceconference/
There will also be a free #YoungFutures conference in the build up to the event for 16-25 year olds. For more information visit: https://www.canterbury-cathedral.org/whats-on/event/youngfutures2017/
I love toby jugs. My grandmother had a lot of them, in all sizes. They were proper toby jugs, of course, in three-corner hats and 18th-century clothing. In fact, everyone seemed to have at least one of them when I was growing up. Every mantelpiece sported a rotund toby.
Now, of course, toby jugs aren’t as common, nor are they dressed in three-cornered hats. These days you can even get Richard III toby jugs. Well, they’ve been around some time, of course, and as all sorts of other figures.
I don’t think I fancy Shylock lurking on my mantelpiece, but Richard can sit there any time he wants!
The exterior of Bradford City Hall is adorned with sculptural interpretations of the kings of England. There are forty of them, from William I to Queen Victoria. The website indicated below gives a brief description of each one.
So, let us examine the likeness and description of the four kings of concern to us, Henry VI, Edward IV, Richard III and Henry VII. Please note, there was no Edward V, but then, I suppose he was never crowned, so never officially became king.
We’ll begin with Henry VI, who appears to be beloved of Bradford pigeons.
“King Henry VI (1422-1461, 1470-1471). The statue shows an austere figure in tight-fitting clothes under a dressing-gown like outer robe, one hand holding a sceptre, the other hand on his hip. His crown looks more like a mitre. The focus of the piece seems mainly on his long right leg.”
To be sure, those knee breeches look more late 18th/early 19th century than 15th. The barely-tied dressing robe and awkward leg rather complete the likeness of Lord Byron. Austere? No. Possessed of that purposeful chin? Not according to his portraits. And the pose is more vigorous than poor Henry was in his entire unhappy life!
Next we have a fine figure of Edward IV.
“King Edward IV (1461-1470, 1471-1483). The king is shown in plate armour, but has none of the muscularity of the statue of Henry V. One hand rests on the pommel of his sword, the other holds perhaps a scroll. The face is round and not youthful, and he wears no helm, suggesting he is posed in armour rather than likely to fight in it. He does not wear his crown either; it is on a tasselled cushion on a pedestal half behind him; the decoration of the pedestal with a carved olive branch indicates his peaceful rather than warlike intent.”
He is in armour, but has Beethoven’s head., and looks far too old to be Edward when he was able to squeeze glamorously into any armour. Because, as a young king, he was glamorous. As for being peaceful and unlikely to fight in armour, Edward may have gone to seed latterly, but had been one heck of a warrior. So we can dispense with the olive branch!
Now we come to Richard III and his description.
“King Richard III (1483-1485). Another statue which stands out in quality. He is shown looking downward, wearing a short tunic above and hose on his legs, and a short robe with fur edging. His left hand is almost clenched, and with his right one he is about to draw his sword, which hangs behind him. There is an emphasis on the muscles of his legs and breadth of his raised forearm to indicate his powerful physique, and coupled with the frowning expression, indicates a forceful king.”
Well, those Tudor bloomers don’t look right at all! The sculptor had the Bard’s Richard in mind, methinks. Nor does the San Andreas Fault forehead look right. If he screwed up his face like that all the time, I imagine he’d have a permanent headache. And I’m sorry, but he’s holding the sword in his left hand, while his right hand is in something resembling a fist. As for the powerful physique, well, we all know Richard was a slender man. Yes, he probably had powerful legs, but not as if he’d been on steroids. His legs had to be strong because when wearing armour in battles or jousts, he had to be able to clench his legs to stay on his horse while wielding a sword, lance or battle-axe. Puny legs wouldn’t have been much use. Was he a forceful man? No, he was far too lenient and trusting, and it cost him his life.
Now for Henry VII, who (heh, heh, heh) is covered in green mould!
“Henry Tudor (King Henry VII, 1485-1509). The sculptor has chosen to depict the king as a man of peace and religion, wearing long tunic and robe, holding sceptre and orb, the latter with a prominent cross on top. His expression is bleak, more so than his painted portraits would suggest, his face leathery, and on his head is a soft cap rather than a crown, though a heavy chain with medallion hangs prominently on his breast. Henry Tudor was particularly beloved by the Welsh, and there is a statue of him in Cardiff City Hall by Ernest Gillick. That statue is in full plate armour, and depicts a purposeful man striding to meet, or make, his own fate.”
Yes, the bleak and leathery face might do, especially toward the end of his life. A man of peace? Maybe…but only after he’d gone to war by invading England with a French army, killed Richard III through vile treachery and then plonked his scrawny Welsh posterior on the usurped throne. I’m glad to say that, thanks to the remaining Yorkists, it was a long time before his posterior could unclench! A very long time.
If you’d like to see the other thirty-six monarchs, please go to http://www.speel.me.uk/sculptplaces/bradfordcityhall.htm Or visit Bradford City Hall, of course.
The above painting by William Bell Scott depicts Chaucer reading to an aging John of Gaunt. The ladies are the two men’s wives, Philippa and Katherine, born de Roët.
Everyone knows that John of Gaunt (1340-1399) had three wives, the last of whom was Katherine Swynford (nee de Roët, 1350-1403), who had been his children’s governess. She then became his mistress (during his second marriage to Costanza of Castile) and finally, in 1396, his third duchess. The last move, was very unpopular at the time, for it was felt Gaunt, a king’s son, had demeaned himself by marrying well below his station…and that she had reached up well above hers.
Katherine, married at twelve to a Lincolnshire knight, Sir Hugh Swynford, had a sister, Philippa (c. 1346–c. 1387) who was a damoiselle of the queen, and who by the end of 1366 had been married to Geoffrey Chaucer. Yes, the Geoffrey Chaucer, who was a very close friend of John of Gaunt. Was the Chaucer marriage a love match? After all, at the time he was a mere squire, whereas she was relatively highborn, the daughter of a prominent Hainault family of rich landowners, or so I understand the de Roët sisters’ background to be. The Chaucer union is subject to a lot of speculation.
Let us go back before 1366, before Philippa became Geoffrey’s bride. John of Gaunt is renowned for his interesting private life, as described above, and seems to have been a Plantagenet charmer par excellence. By inheriting the huge wealth and status of the Duchy of Lancaster (through his first wife, Blanche) he was the richest, most influential man in England, especially when his father, Edward III, began to descend into senility. Gaunt had an eye for a beautiful woman, and the suggestion is that the de Roët sisters were both beautiful. I don’t know if they warranted the description, but I doubt very much that they were plain, stodgy dumplings. Men like Gaunt are not drawn to the nondescript.
So, Katherine Swynford was governess to his daughters. At this time her sister Philippa was unmarried, and also the queen’s lady. The queen, another Philippa, was from Hainault too, so I imagine this was a very good reason to have Philippa de Roët close to her. And then there was John of Gaunt, master seducer. The suspicion is that his eye fell upon Philippa first. It wasn’t the done thing to deflower unmarried ladies, and maybe this precluded such an affair in his eyes, except that there are suspicious signs that he broke the rule.
He was not a dishonourable man, and took his responsibilities seriously. Dates fit for him to have bedded Philippa and got her in the family way. In September 1366, before leaving for a campaign in Spain, Gaunt granted Philippa a lifetime annuity. It was very generous, and surely he had no reason for doing such a thing. Some present-day thinking is that Gaunt protected her by paying his good friend Chaucer a great deal to marry her. She was to give birth to a daughter, Elizabeth, the appropriate number of months later. Elizabeth would become a nun and enter the prestigious royal Abbey of Barking.
For the rest of his life, Gaunt was especially kind to Elizabeth, who might well have been his daughter. His particular favour to her suggests he knew she was. There were also more gifts, opportunities and annuities to the Chaucers.
Was Gaunt Katherine Swynford’s lover at the same time he was bedding Philippa? That we’ll never know, just as we will never know the truth about his dealings with the latter. All those gifts and favours are suspicious though. Why would Gaunt bestow such bounty upon Philippa? Why continue to be so concerned about her? She was by then a married women. Did the affair continue after she became Chaucer’s wife? Was Chaucer a complacent husband, paid well enough to say nothing and just let his wife get on with it?
Or, as some of you will no doubt tell me, Gaunt did no such thing. The Chaucer marriage was a love match and Gaunt was merely a generous lord. Possibly. Possibly, too, Elizabeth Chaucer was of royal blood.
In the small quaint Hampshire village of Nether Wallop, filming location for the BBC’s MISS MARPLE, stands St Andrew’s church, a medieval establishment built on Saxon foundations. From the exterior it looks rather ordinary (save for the strange funerary pyramid in its grounds!) but inside is a glory of wall-paintings dating from the Saxon era to the 15th century.
The Saxon paintings are of the Winchester School, usually only seen in illuminations, and are exceeding rare, unique in the country as being the only wall paintings of this date in situ. Angels frolic over the chancel arch, the survivors of a grander mural which culminated at the centre with Christ in Majesty. (Jesus has now vanished, unfortunately, leaving just the angels on the sides of the arch.)
Along the rest of the church walls are further paintings from the early to mid-15th century, an eroded St Nicholas of Myrna and a wonderfully vivid depicture of St George slaying a dragon to rescue the Princess Cleodolinda. The dragon and George do battle below a tall tower, watched by a well preserved King and Queen, the King looking pleased at George’s prowess and the Queen slightly concerned!
Just down from them is a slightly patchy though very large figure which gives an insight into medieval religious thought in the 1400’s. It depicts the legends of the Sabbath Breakers and the woes you will bring upon Christ and yourself if you do not rest on the Sabbath as God decreed! Christ’s leg is showed being wounded by an axe and a knife; there are also depictions of other tools of the trade from the 15thc including scales and a quern, among others less discernable.
All or some of the 15thc wall paintings may have been comissioned by Mary or Maria Gore, an Abbess of Amesbury in Wiltshire. Her brass lies on the floor in the centre of the nave and is a rarity in itself–the only brass of an Abbess still existing in England.